“Last night before I went to bed it started to sink in, but (before then) it just felt like a dream or something — it felt like it wasn’t real,” Rollins said. “(Head) Coach (Shawn) Witten texted me and asked if I felt it yet and I was like: ‘No, not yet,’ but when I laid down that night I felt it, and it feels great.
“It feels great to be able to come back out here, have the community together and celebrate this W,” Rollins said.
And celebrate they did, more than any other team in the history of Elizabethton High School football, and arguably more than any other team has in Northeast Tennessee history. The celebrating continued Monday with a parade along Jason Witten Drive to Citizens Bank Stadium on the high school’s campus, where their fans got one more chance to cheer on the Cyclones.
The Cyclones were unstoppable this season, going 14-0 before steamrolling Springfield 30-6 in the championship game, becoming the first team in District 1 history to win a state championship under the current playoff format.
During their championship rout, Rollins went 11 of 12 passing for 105 yards while running for 136 yards on 30 carries en route to winning the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
“We couldn’t have done this with anybody else,” Rollins said. “Everybody believed in us from the start, and it just feels great that everybody had the confidence in us to bring this back.”
When the time ran out on Saturday — long after the game was already in hand — Witten let his emotions go, saying the team “had to earn every bit” of the season they had. On Monday, however, Witten was more measured, but still excited to be around his players and a community that supported and earned the Cyclones their first state title in Witten’s 13 years as head coach.
“It’s just an amazing feeling,” Witten said. “This town, this community, these players, our school — it’s never going to be the same. So many people waited so long for this to happen, and just to bring that gold ball back home ... dreams do come true.”
Elizabethton City Schools Superintendent Corey Gardenhour said he expected this team to make a run, but that after the first game of the season — a 28-20 win over Science Hill — he knew this team was special.
“My expectation was that they were going to be a special team, and we knew that after the first couple games of the season,” Gardenhour said. “I never really try to predict the future for teams because I’ve had some surprise me, but from the very first play from scrimmage this year, I knew they were different.”
While the time to prepare for the 2020 season as defending Class 4A champs will be upon them soon, Monday was a night of celebration and a time to reflect on what was truly a stunning season for a team that will “go down in history,” as Gardenhour says. And while Monday’s celebration was for the 2019 football team’s on-field achievements, it was just as much a celebration of all Elizabethton Cyclones — past and present.
“Is it not great to be an Elizabethton Cyclone?” Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander asked, eliciting a shower of cheers as the unmistakable clattering of cowbells boomed through the stadium. “It is absolutely unbelievable (to be state champions).”